Are Horses Opportunistic Carnivores

Elaine Sutton
• Wednesday, 30 September, 2020
• 22 min read

Equestrians are also abuzz about the book Deadly Equines: The Shocking True Story of Meat-Eating and Murderous Horses. We tend to organize everything into neat, tidy categories in our minds, so anything that deviates from the norm seems exciting.

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While many of these stories in Deadly Equines should be taken with a grain of salt, there is no denying meat is not off the table for horses (pun intended). Viral videos of a horse eating a chick and a deer eating a bird, as well as the news story of deer scavenging on human corpses at a body farm in Texas, have understandably made a lot of people curious about what is going on.

There are also omnivores that eat a little of everything and autotrophs, like plants and algae, that produce their own food. In general, herbivores have flat teeth for grinding and long digestive systems, carnivores have sharper teeth for tearing meat and shorter digestive systems, and omnivores are somewhere in between.

Lean, Mean, Green-Processing Machines The equine digestive system is excellent at turning grass into energy. Horses teeth continually “erupt” throughout their life, as they are worn down from chewing tough plant matter.

Ruminants, like cattle and sheep, use bacteria in their Rubens, a digestive chamber before the stomach, to ferment plant fiber. In fact, horse stomachs hold a surprisingly small amount, empty quickly, and food passes through their bodies at a rate of about 1 foot per minute.

Humans sometimes provide horses with alternate sources of energy, like grain, to give them a boost for harder work. A typical 1,000-pound horse that is just working on maintaining her body condition needs roughly 15,000 calories a day.

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Besides providing energy and nutrients, all of this roughage holds a great deal of water and the sheer mass fills up the horse’s enormous gut. When a horse’s digestive tract is empty, they are more prone to twisting of the intestines and colic.

They can also lose their water reservoir and develop diarrhea, which can result in dehydration. Since horses were made to be constantly consuming forage, they aren’t set up to handle the feeling of an empty stomach, and they are not sure what to do with all that time they spend not chewing.

This can result in sand colic, where the desperate horse spends time sweeping the surrounding ground in an effort to relieve hunger and boredom. Horses may also turn to chewing wood or other vices like cribbing and weaving.

If they were to consume something dangerous or poisonous, it would require prompt veterinary attention. Sure, they “can” process meat and get some energy and nutrients from it, but they have teeth that need grinding and a belly that needs to be kept full of fiber.

Many hooked animals, like cows and deer, are known to eat bones or antlers and some science points to a need for calcium as an explanation for this behavior. However, it appears that the occasional herbivore learns, by accident, that they can eat animals.

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People may attempt to explain away this behavior by blaming pica, which is when animals (including humans!) Horses may eat sand, wood, manes/tails, and manure due to boredom or inadequate nutrients.

Due to horses willingness to try different foods, they have been fed meat and animal products all over the world throughout history. While horses in Iceland are generally kept on pasture, in the winter with supplemental hay, farmers may also place barrels of salted herring out for them.

Exploration of Antarctica in the early 1900s made use of Siberian and Manchurian ponies to transport supplies. These ponies were said to have eagerly eaten dried fish, blubber, and raw seal meat.

It will not contain the correct nutrients for horses and may even contain additives that are dangerous for your equine friend. If horses do not receive proper nutrition (or any food) for long enough, they’re likely to trying eating whatever they can find in an effort to survive.

Horses also have a tendency not to chew clippings, which can lead to choke, colic, or laminates. Horses are lactose intolerant and dairy products run the risk of causing digestive upset.

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Like other safe fruits they should only be given as a treat and not make up a large part of their diet. Meat does not have the correct nutrients to make up a significant portion of their diet.

Apple seeds produce hydrogen cyanide when chewed, which can be deadly in high enough doses. Carrots make an excellent treat, but should only be given in moderation since they do not contain the correct nutrient profile for horses to stay healthy.

Horses have herbivore digestive tracts and don’t need meat to survive. In fact, they require ample plant matter to stay healthy.

Horses may need up to 12 gallons of water per day, depending on their diet and environment. (Source) Some horses might avoid drinking dirty, icy, or strange tasting water, and they run the risk of developing impaction colic.

Keep your horse’s water clean, easy to access, and at a reasonable temperature. What horses DO require is plenty of good quality roughage and clean water to keep their digestive systems running smoothly.

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A horse’s diet generally consists of hay, grass and concentrates, such as grain. In addition, horses enjoy many fruits and vegetables as treats, such as carrots, apples, bananas, watermelons and sweet potatoes.

Most horses eat hay and some form of concentrates a day, such as grain or pelleted feed. They generally get concentrates one to two times a day, with the amount and type varying with each horse.

The gastrointestinal tract in horses is designed to regularly be ingesting small amounts of food all throughout the day. Non-ruminant herbivores are designed to consume a high fiber, low starch diets by foraging throughout the day.

This unlike other herbivores, such as cows, sheep, goats, and deer, that chew their cud. A horse will produce 20-80 liters of saliva a day, to aid in the process of digesting.

The stomach also digests protein and regulates the food that passes into the small intestine. Once in the small intestine, more digestion of protein happens, in addition to simple carbohydrates and fats.

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The colon works to absorb nutrients and water that comes with food through the digestive tract. Some of the most common causes for colic are excess gas build up in the colon, dehydration, parasites, excessive intake of sand, stress, changes in diet, blockage in the digestion track and too much grain intake.

Signs of colic include rolling, laying down, stretching, pawing, kicking, lack of fecal production, lack of interest in food and water, elevated heart rate and sweating. If your horse is showing any signs of colic, you want to notify your vet immediately.

While waiting for the vet to arrive, it is a good idea to walk your horse, as this stimulates gut movement and prevents any injuries from excessive rolling. A balanced diet and constant access to fresh water can help prevent colic in horses.

Since horses are herbivores, their diet largely consists of hay and grass. Horses also typically eat grain or other concentrates to help meet their dietary needs, and they also enjoy many types of fruits and vegetables as treats.

Horses have a unique digestive system and it is very important for them to maintain a proper diet in order for them to be healthy. Each horse is unique and will have a different feeding plan based on their age, weight, and exercise.

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Some typical mammalian omnivores include raccoons which are one of the best examples of an opportunistic feeder. Wolves, cougars, owls, sea lions and walruses are examples of carnivores, while koalas, pandas, gazelles, zebras and caterpillars are herbivores.

from a behavioral aspect, this would make them omnivores, but from the physiological standpoint, this may be due to zoopharmacognosy. Herbivores (such as deer, elephants, horses) have teeth that are adapted to grind vegetable tissue.

All herbivores have unique physical features that adapted to feeding and digesting fibrous plant matter. Our large collection of science worksheets are a great study tool for all ages.

Also, horses are physiologically and instinctively well-equipped to handle them, so these predators usually seek easier game. Still, if you live in an area where large predators are present, take precautions to protect your horses and other pets.

Plenty of predators will seize the opportunity to snack on a young domestic horse, especially one that is alone in a paddock. A healthy newborn horse can stand and run in just a few short hours after birth.

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This strong substance protects the horse’s feet from wear and tear, but also provides quite a painful blow should any predator find itself on the wrong end of a rearing mustang. A large adult horse with a group of friends is much safer than a lone foal that was separated from its herd.

Size : 80 to 100 pounds Territory : Wolves prefer the dense forests and mountain regions of the Northern Hemisphere, but can survive in a variety of habitats. Before European settlers arrived in North America, wolves roamed freely hunting elk, deer, and other large game.

Size : 130 to 185 pounds Territory : “The cougar thrives in montane, coniferous forests, lowland tropical forests, swamps, grassland, dry brush country, or any other area with adequate cover and prey.” (source) Characteristics : These predators are athletic solo hunters. They stalk their prey and rely on the element of surprise, but they can run and leap great distances.

They generally prefer to hunt smaller game, like fish, birds, or small mammals. Coyotes are clever pack hunters, and they rarely start a fight that they might not win.

Horses are too large, and they pose too big of a threat to a coyote’s health for him to bother. Still, if a pack of hungry coyotes stumbles across a young or injured horse, they may seize the opportunity.

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In Florida, the Payne's Prairie Reserve is home to alligators, bison, black bears, and wild horses. Alligators mostly eat fish, birds, and small mammals, but will occasionally attack horses and cows.

While they mostly cause trouble for cattle and other domestic livestock, dogs tend to be bolder and more aggressive than wolves or coyotes. Wolves and coyotes occasionally mate with domesticated dogs, creating new hybrids.

“Coy dogs” and “wolf dogs” don’t always act according to their behavioral characteristics, and can cause problems for wild horse herds. Even though wild horses don’t have many natural predators, life on the prairie is still dangerous.

A significant bite from one of these species carries enough poison to cause swelling, shock, or even death. BisonBoth bison and horses are herd animals, and generally, have neutral interactions when their paths cross.

West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis have deadly results in both horses and humans. DiseaseBacterial infections from wounds, communicable viruses, and fungus all pose threats to wild horses.

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Several wild horses on Chincoteague island succumbed to a “swamp cancer” caused by a fungus in stagnant water. (source)Prairie DogsThese rodents dig large networks of tunnels.

When wild horse populations reach critical levels, they are rounded up and either adopted to willing families or housed on private farms and feedlots. But because they have few natural predators, the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies are trying to curb their numbers in other ways.

Horses compete for resources with cattle, and they can cause significant damage to the land. Even though humans seek to prevent harm from wild horses, once a mustang is rounded up and sent to a new home, he’s no longer living freely.

A wolf does have the ability to kill and then eat a horse, however, due to their low numbers, attacks are not common. Though the horse isn’t native to North America, there are still “wild” free-roaming animals on the range.

An omnivore is an animal that eats both meat and plants for all you people who don't know what that is Lions are obligate carnivores consuming only animal flesh for their nutritional requirements carnivore, meaning meat eater” (Latin, car, genitive carnies, meaning “meat” or “flesh” and gorier meaning “to devour”), is an animal whose food and energy requirements derive solely from animal tissue or meat, whether through hunting or scavenging.

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Animals that depend solely on animal flesh for their nutrient requirements are called obligate carnivores while those that also consume non-animal food are called facultative carnivores. Omnivores also consume both animal and non-animal food, and, apart from the more general definition, there is no clearly defined ratio of plant to animal material that would distinguish a facultative carnivore from an omnivore.

A carnivore at the top of the food chain, not preyed upon by other animals, is termed an apex predator. For example, while the Arctic polar bear eats meat almost exclusively (more than 90% of its diet is meat), most species of bears are omnivorous, and the giant panda is exclusively herbivorous.

Besides, some mammals, especially the cetaceans, are highly carnivorous yet are not true Carnivorous. They gave rise to insectivorous vertebrates and, later, to predators of other tetra pods.

Carnivores may alternatively be classified according to the percentage of meat in their diet. Lions are voracious carnivores ; they require more than 7 kilograms of meat daily.

A major component of their diet is the meat of large mammals, such as this buffalo. Obligate or “true” carnivores are those whose diet requires nutrients found only in animal flesh. While obligate carnivores might be able to ingest small amounts of plant matter, they lack the necessary physiology required to fully digest it.

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In fact, some obligate carnivorous mammals will only ingest vegetation to use as an emetic, to self-induce vomiting of the vegetation along with the other food it had ingested that upset its stomach. All fields, including the domestic cat, require a diet of primarily animal flesh and organs.

Specifically, cats have high protein requirements and their metabolisms appear unable to synthesize essential nutrients such as retinol, arginine, Maurine, and arachidonic acid ; thus, in nature, they must consume flesh to supply these nutrients. Characteristics commonly associated with carnivores include strength, speed, and keen senses for hunting, as well as teeth and claws for capturing and tearing prey.

However, some carnivores do not hunt and are scavengers, lacking the physical characteristics to bring down prey; in addition, most hunting carnivores will scavenge when the opportunity arises. Carnivores have comparatively short digestive systems, as they are not required to break down the tough cellulose found in plants.

Many hunting animals have evolved eyes facing forward, enabling depth perception. Predation (the eating of one living creature by another for nutrition) predates the rise of commonly recognized carnivores by hundreds of millions (perhaps billions) of years.

The earliest predators were microbial organisms, which engulfed or grazed on others. Because the fossil record is poor, these first predators could date back anywhere between 1 and over 2.7 Gym (billion years ago).

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While amphibians continued to feed on fish and later insects, reptiles began exploring two new food types: tetra pods (carnivory) and then plants (herbivory). Carnivory was a natural transition from insectivore for medium and large tetra pods, requiring minimal adaptation; in contrast, a complex set of adaptations was necessary for feeding on highly fibrous plant materials.

In the early-to-mid-Cenozoic, the dominant predator forms were mammals: hyaenodonts, oxygenize, entelodonts, ptolemaiidans, arctocyonids and mesonychians, representing a great diversity of Eutheria carnivores in the northern continents and Africa. In South America, sparassodonts were dominant, while Australia saw the presence of several marsupial predators, such as the dasyuromorphs and thylacoleonids.

From the Miocene to the present, the dominant carnivorous mammals have been carnivora morphs. Most carnivorous mammals, from dogs to Deltatheridium, share several dental adaptations, such as carnassialiforme teeth, long canines and even similar tooth replacement patterns.

Most aberrant are thylacoleonids, with a diprodontan dentition completely unlike that of any other mammal; and eutriconodonts like gobioconodontids and Regulator, with a three-cusp anatomy which nevertheless functioned similarly to carnassials. “Rainforest collapse triggered Pennsylvanian tetra pod diversification in America”.

CS1 main: multiple names: authors list (link) ^ Velegrand-Defretin, Veronique (1994). ^ a b c Origins and Early Evolution of Predation, 2002 (full paper) ^ Foley, James A.

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Mammals from the Age of Dinosaurs: origins, evolution, and structure. “A revision of the Late Cretaceous–Paleocene Eutheria mammal Completes Marsh, 1889”.

“Carnivorous dental adaptations in tropospheric mammals and phylogenetic reconstruction”. Examples, alimentation y curiosities Archived 2019-02-24 at the Payback Machine.

Glen, Alistair & Hickman, Christopher (Eds) 2014, Carnivores of Australia, Cairo Publishing, Melbourne, ISBN 978-0-643-10310-8. I stood in front of a smoking grill at a campground in Florida with a pair of raw T-bone steaks.

Habituated to human presence and living in a place where hunting was forbidden, she seemed very interested in what I was doing. When the steaks came off the grill I sat down to eat and found an aggressive snout that wanted a share.

It turns out that deer of various species have long been observed eating the flesh of the dead. Scientists have recorded deer devouring dead fish that had drifted to shore, gobbling them up at a rate of up to eight per minute.

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Most reports of hippos eating meat involve the scavenging of animals killed by other causes. In 2002, there were news reports from Ethiopia’s Kafka Province of hippos killing and eating livestock.

Generalists, such as raccoons and pigs, can survive in a variety of habitats and climates and can utilize many food sources. Specialists, on the other hand, tend to exploit one niche very thoroughly and may be able to dominate it for as long as it exists.

Koalas are a good example of a specialist species, feeding entirely on the leaves of eucalyptus trees. For example, a prolonged drought may cause many herbivores to weaken and die, creating a scavenging opportunity for the survivors.

When we look at the evolutionary histories of some of these herbivores, we find even more omnivorous behavior in their past. Early forms of deer about 30 million years ago are thought to have eaten large amounts of grubs, insects, baby birds, eggs, and small mammals in addition to plant matter.

They probably ate a lot of meat in the past, their descendants will eventually do so again, and meanwhile they indulge every so often when nobody seems to be paying attention. We asked for reader response, and I agreed to contact experts in equine nutrition, behavior, and husbandry from around the world for their comments on the topic.

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The responses have come from horse owners, trainers, veterinarians, biologists, animal behaviorists, and equine scientists from all over the world. The reports included domestic horses, donkeys, mules, ponies, and miniatures, as well as wild mustangs.

Meat foods mentioned included hot dogs, hamburgers, steak, bologna, ham, fried chicken, or buffalo wings–eaten from the hand or from the tailgate just as if they were apples. Unusual meaty food items included were spaghetti with meat sauce, chicken livers from the trash, whole raw eggs in the shell, meat-based dry dog food, and an entire family Thanksgiving dinner of turkey and trimmings.

Some indicated that these particular horses were the type of animal that would take almost anything offered from the hand of a human, or that were very mouthy and nibble around everything. It’s pretty funny when you see a horse take a whole fish at once, and you see the tail extending out through the lips as the head and body are chewed.

It is claimed that the fish provide salt, as well as vitamins A and D and selenium, which are reportedly deficient in the native hay and silage. Many readers sent graphic accounts of horses chasing and attacking small animals and fowl, usually by stomping, pouncing cat-style, or picking up and tossing all sorts of critters.

Readers’ experiences included, more or less in the order most mentioned: Dogs, rats, mice, chickens, goats, sheep, rabbits, ducks, geese, calves, peahens, turkeys, pigeons, snakes, pigs, squirrels, coyotes, cats, hedgehogs, beaver, bandit (Australian cat-sized marsupial), and skunk (yikes!). Many people reported the horse paying attention to or playing with an animal that was injured or killed as a result.

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Many others reported that they had intervened and removed the dead animal, and so didn’t know if the horse had eaten any meat or blood. Many readers described finding a horse licking blood or eating a dead animal that they either knew (such as doves or blood from deer killed by hunters) or assumed had been found dead–perhaps died there or had been killed and left by a dog or cat.

Some readers described having seen horses eating live chicks, mice, and goldfish whole or by biting off and swallowing the head. “I saw a peahen with several pea chicks sauntering through this stallion’s large corral, and as she and the chicks were getting practically underneath the horse, I was concerned that one might accidentally get stepped on if he moved.

I saw the chick’s legs and feet sticking out of the stallion’s lips, and I was totally horrified, realizing it would probably be dead or injured beyond saving once he dropped it. I ran straight into his corral, still hardly believing what I’d witnessed, hoping maybe I was wrong and perhaps I’d find the chick lying dead on the ground.

Just as in our original stories, several readers described eyewitness accounts of horses repeatedly killing and eating some or all of the carcass. Dr. Anna Guru Thorhallsdottir, an equine nutritionist and behaviorist from Iceland, offered the interpretation of repeated ingestion of blood, viscera, or meat as a learned behavior.

“In conversation with a distinguished Eastern European Chief Veterinary Officer–who also happens to be an equine vet–he advanced an interesting idea. He asked me if I had ever seen horses eating meat, and I recounted the story of my pregnant Welsh pony (that had eaten a dead sheep).

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Most people described that horses which killed and ate animals remained gentle with humans, although some were leery of allowing contact with children. Unfortunately, we’ve known of other children and people over the years that have been viciously attacked and injured or killed by horses.

In Miohippus, we see the continued lengthening of the classic equine skull, as well as longer limbs that allowed this ungulate to thrive in both plains and woodlands (depending on the species). This “marginal horse” (the Greek translation of its name) continued the Eocene trend of enlarged middle toes, and its skull was equipped with ten grinding molars.

Six feet tall at the shoulder and 1,000 pounds, Merychippus cut a reasonably horse like profile, if you're willing to ignore the small toes surrounding its enlarged middle hooves. Represented by a dozen separate species, Riparian (“like a horse”) was hands-down the most successful equip of the latter Cenozoic Era, populating the grassy plains not only of North America but also Europe and Africa.

Pliohippus is the bad apple on the equine evolutionary tree: there's reason to believe that this otherwise horse-like ungulate was not directly ancestral to genus Equus, but represented a side branch in evolution. Finally, we come to the last “hippo”: the donkey-sized Hippidion of the Pleistocene epoch, one of the few ancestral horses known to have colonized South America (by way of the recently submerged Central American isthmus).

Ironically, in light of the tens of millions of years they spent evolving there, Hippidion and its northern relatives went extinct in the Americas shortly after the last Ice Age; it remained for European settlers to reintroduce the horse into the New World in the 16th century AD.

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